‘I create characters through clothing’: Springfield native, ‘Black Panther’ costume designer Ruth E. Carter visits STCC

Oct 15 2018

Ruth E. Carter was in Springfield for Springfield Technical Community College’s first Comic Fest.

SPRINGFIELD — Anyone looking for advice on how to get into fashion design school, or how to sew a prom dress, should not ask Ruth E. Carter.

“I didn’t study fashion, I can barely sew, I am not a fashion designer, that’s not what I do,” said the Academy Award-nominated costume designer and native of Springfield. “I am a storyteller. I create characters through clothing.”

Carter on Thursday shared some of her experiences of being in the costume and film industry for 30 years with students at Springfield Technical Community College during the college’s Comic Fest.

“This is our fist time attempting this and it went so well,” said Vonetta Lightfoot, multicultural affairs operations manager for the college. “Carter is a Hampton University alumni like me and I just knew we had to have her as our keynote speaker. She is from Springfield and she makes us proud.”

Students from Kiley Middle School and Duggan Academy in Springfield, as well as East Longemadow High School, attended Carter’s talk, which was nearly two hours long and included many behind-the-scenes details about her work on Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie.

Carter shared secrets about the queen of Wakanda’s perfectly cylindrical headdress (it was made on a 3-D printer) and the markings on Black Panther’s suit of armor (it’s the Wakandan alphabet).

“Marvel is like the CIA, there’s a code of silence,” she joked, recalling her first visit to the studio to present her vision for the world of Wakanda, a fictitious African nation.

Carter said even with 14 Spike Lee films, a Steven Spielberg film and 30 years of experience under her belt, she was still nervous to work on the Marvel  blockbuster.

“I don’t think that nervousness ever goes away. I wondered what people would think of my work, whether I could handle such a big project, but I just did it,” she said.


Carter recalled the moment when the main cast was all dressed in their costumes for the first time for a photo shoot at the studio.

“I was standing there looking at this before it had been presented to the world and my feeling was, we have really done something special here. We have really done something different that never has been seen before, and I was filled with joy that we we were able to accomplish such detail for each character and this world,” she said.

During a question-and-answer portion of the event, students, teachers and fans of the movie thanked Carter for her representation of the characters.

“As a true fan of the comics I just want you to know that it was very touching to see the attention to detail that you paid to the story line of each character,” said Antonio Smith, a student at STCC. “It meant a lot to comic book fans like me.”

Others asked how she achieved her success. Carter said her advice might not be the most prudent according to adults in the room.

“I am not your parent or your teacher or councilor, so I am always going to tell you to follow your passion no matter what. That’s what I did,” she said. “Be a student of your own passion and people will take notice, and when people take notice they will give you opportunities, and one opportunity always leads to another.”




May 2024